In welcome news for many coaches, athletes and spectators, the CIF-Southern Section made it official Wednesday that the section's cross country championships will return to iconic Mt. San Antonio College course for the 2020 post-season.
The CIF-SS has conducted its cross country preliminaries and championship meet at the Riverside City Course the past four years while an $87 million renovation of the stadium and adjacent facilities was underway at the Mt. SAC campus in Walnut.
"We are excited to return to Mt. San Antonio College and their beautiful state of the art facility for the CIF Southern Section-Ford Boys and Girls Cross-Country Championships," CIF-SS Commissioner of Athletics Rob Wigod said in a release.
"We want to thank Mt. SAC and Facilities Director Doug Todd for welcoming us to their venue and we look forward to an outstanding championship experience for our student-athletes and all of our stakeholders," Wigod said.
With schools closed and California still under a stay-at-home order designed to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic that has already killed over 61,000 in the United States, the return of high school sports in the fall remains tentative.
According to the CIF-SS release, the tentative dates for the 2020 Cross Country Championships are November 13-14 for the prelims and Nov. 21 for the final.
It should be noted that despite the on-going construction, Mt. SAC continued to hold its annual cross country invitational in October and served as the venue for the Foot Locker West Regionals.
This past February, CIF-SS officials met with Todd, the Mt. SAC Director of Special Events, to confirm that the extreme facility upgrade had concluded and in no way, would hinder hosting the CIF-SS postseason once again.
In an online survey conducted by MileSplitCA last October, the general sentiment was a return to Mt. SAC. A 'sense of history and tradition' was the most referenced rationale for wanting to return. Over 50 coaches responded, including those that oversee the Southern Section's most successful programs over the past two decades.
In responding to our survey, longtime head coach of Chadwick High, George Ramos shared, "Mt. SAC has history. It is the traditional home of CIF Finals, and as such, established programs have school records going back decades on this course. Not only that, but the course makes for great stories and great memories, and it is spectator friendly. It also prepares Southern Section teams for the State Meet course well." His thoughts best represent what most Mt. SAC proponents echoed.
Chad Scott of Westlake explained, "...Mt. SAC is a championship venue. Athletes have parents and even grandparents who have competed there. It has a storied history." Meanwhile Marty Dugard, now the distance coach at Santa Margarita after a decade at JSerra High, commented that "Mt. SAC is true cross country and is a huge part of our sport's legacy. Kids today can run almost the same course I ran in 1978. That sort of tradition in a competitive
arena is hard to beat, linking together our sport across generations."
Coaches that favored the move back to Mt. SAC also referenced parking as an issue. One of the challenges in recent years was that the dirt parking lot at the Riverside venue, located right next to the course, created a large amount of dust. Watering down the parking lot area along with where spectators would rotate between spots also created dust, as some coaches mentioned in the survey. Proponents for the Riverside course noted that it was well managed and very athlete friendly in regard to being a flatter option on all dirt with several opportunities for rolling hills.
In our survey, there were a number of coaches that would have liked to see both Mt. SAC and Riverside utilized in some form. Others have conducted studies that hint at the idea that Southern Section teams have not fared as well at the State Meet (Woodward Park) in recent years as the less challenging Riverside course allows for some teams and individuals to qualify for the State Meet. Whereas in the past, on the much tougher Mt. SAC course, the true 'cream of the crop' rose to the podium and represented the section more successfully the following weekend.
One probable adjustment to the switch back to Mt. SAC is the number of teams that advance to the finals. An expansive starting line at the Riverside Course allowed for 24 teams to advance to the Finals. Before 2016, the standard for the Mt. SAC starting line on the airstrip, allowed for 16 squads to advance.
The Mt. SAC cross country course is one of the most iconic in the United States and hosted the CIF-SS postseason from 1972-1978 and 1981-2015. Aware of the major changes that would prevent the facility from hosting the postseason for several years, efforts were made to find an alternative facility. In preparation for 2016, the CIF-SS prelims were conducted in Riverside.
Coordinated by former La Sierra head coach Will Jacobsmeyer, the community of Riverside allowed for them to convert a retired golf course into a cross country facility that hosted the postseason the past several years. They were the ONLY group that came forward with a proposal that met the demands and expectations to host the postseason events on such a large scale -- and they constructed it all from scratch! Now a retired teacher, Jacobsmeyer, the La Sierra and ML King programs, along with Keith Chann spearheading the yearly mainteance of the course, this group worked endless hours to make it happen. They are already working on preparing the course for the 2020 season.
This dedicated group has assured us that they will continue to host cross country events this season. Furthermore, they confirmed and will be ready to serve as a backup if the administration of the Mt. San Antonio College campus has not been given the green light to safely host an event of this size by October.
From the CIF-SS release:
The stadium was first dedicated on October 8, 1948 by then local congressman, Richard M. Nixon. It was renamed after Hilmer Lodge, who created the Mt. SAC Relays in 1959, and was the college's first track and field/cross country coach.
Besides hosting the CIF-SS cross country and track finals as well as many football championships, Hilmer Lodge Stadium hosted the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 1962, 1979 and 1980. It also played host to the United States women's Olympic Trials in 1968 and was renovated with the hope of hosting events like those again.
Mark Gardner is the Southern Section editor for MileSplitCA.
Photos by Lizette Adams, Jeffrey Parenti, Raymond Tran.